Jennifer Cairns

Jennifer is the Founder of Rebel World LTD and the Lady Rebel Club® movement, that empowers, encourages, advocates for, and elevates women and all marginalised gender entrepreneurs who are neurodivergent or have disabilities. 

Being neurodivergent and having several disabilities, including Fibromyalgia, GAD, CPTSD and rare blood cancer, Jennifer knows how high the hurdles can be.

She’s a 5x international bestselling author, neurodiversity and disability advocate, and self-empowerment speaker who lives in N. Ireland with her husband, two boys and their dog. 

Lady Rebel Club’s book series, Rebel With A Cause, launches in October 2022.

What were your initial years of growing up like? Tell us about your life before starting your corporate journey/venture/initiative. 

They were not easy. I had a lot of trauma as a child and lost my best friend at 17. I didn’t ever feel like I fit in growing up and worked hard to mask (as I now know) and had several toxic relationships and trauma as a young adult, too. I met my husband in my late 20’s and we’ve now been married 21 years and have two boys and a dog. 

I never felt like I fit in as a kid, teenager, young adult or even as an adult. I was overcompensated for that in often self-destructive ways, had a lot of anxiety and mental health issues and as I grew from teen to adult, used alcohol to self-medicate.

I only learned later in life that I am also neurodivergent (Autistic/ADHD) and would eventually learn I also had many disabilities, including Fibromyalgia, autoimmune disorders, GAD, CPTSD and in 2020, blood cancer.

Was there any turning point in your life that changed your journey? If so, what was it? Please tell us the backstory behind it.

The three waves, as I call it. That’s when my husband’s stroke, my cancer diagnosis and covid all happened within five months. In addition, my son struggled with mental health issues and our business was in tatters. It was during this time I found my true purpose in helping other women like me who are neurodivergent or have disabilities. I’d suffered my whole life, felt alone and at that trying time in life, I became even more determined.

Every industry that is now a large-scale, top-notch business once started as a small idea in the minds of entrepreneurs. What was that idea or motivation that made you start your business /initiative? What motivated you within to say “YES, go for it!”

I felt like something needed to be done to help others like me just before Covid hit. My husband and I ran a consultancy for 15 years together and were in the process of bringing a programme online when I could see how so many women felt shame and hid as I did. My husband then had a stroke; two months later, I received my blood cancer diagnosis, and two months after that, Covid hit. The business, and our lives, were blown apart and shattered.

It was during this time that I knew I had to do something and the name Lady Rebel Club® was born. I wasn’t sure what that “something” was, but I knew it was needed. I could see we needed to stop carrying the shame and limiting beliefs others heaped upon us and had about us. We needed to stop hiding and be empowered to be ourselves.

Everyone has their own set of challenges when starting an entrepreneurial journey. Still, the most essential part for others to learn is how you deal with those. Would you like to share with us your challenges and your coping mechanisms?

Big challenges for me have always been being seen, being visible, being focused (on specific tasks and completing them), overcoming self-doubt and imposter syndrome, overcoming anxiety and fear around being accepted and valued. Overcoming all of the shame and limited beliefs that both society and the business world placed on me.

I’ve always had huge amounts of grit and I’ve had to dig deep and keep going. I learned how I work most productively and efficiently and in a way that suits me and my life. I grew my confidence and the more I was truly myself, the more I and the business have grown. Hiding all of the parts of me only left me growing my business with one arm behind my back. We need to stop that and set ourselves free to do the work and have the impact.

While the global pandemic of COVID-19 is associated primarily with adversities, it has also brought about a true boom in startups, with successful entrepreneurship in many countries. The pandemic has impacted all of us in one way or another. Would you like to share your experience on a personal and professional level?

It was terrible having to take treatment at the beginning. I didn’t want my youngest to know as he was already struggling with mental health aspects exacerbated by Covid and our family and business were shattered because of my husband’s stroke. I had to find a way to create something I could handle on my own but I also knew it had to be more purposeful and was determined to create something for other women like me.

I’m a very resilient and determined individual and I believe that these traits that stem a lot from my neurodiversity and lived experiences, helped not only to see me through but create something that I love and that is having a massive impact.

Your journey and your vision are very inspiring, but are there any achievements or accomplishments you would like to mention?

I was given the Pioneer of Freedom Award in 2020 for continually encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs to be themselves and follow their dream. I am also only one in five people nominated for the prestigious Entrepreneur For Good award in the whole of N. Ireland and Scotland, by the prestigious Great British Entrepreneur Awards.

I was awarded the Leader of the Month by Our Local Online women’s empowerment group UK, and now volunteer as their Leadership Academy Head. I also volunteer as a strategist at Silver Lining’s SLAP programme for marginalised small business owners. And I have recently been asked to speak at the panel on the 2022 global and government-backed, Great Entrepreneurial Week event.

Would you like to share with our young budding women entrepreneurs the change you would like to see in the world if given an opportunity?

We need to shift those inner paradigms that hold us back. How we think about ourselves and talk about ourselves (and to ourselves) matters. We can’t expect external thinking and behaviour to change if ours hasn’t. We need to know we’re not less than, that our differences can create more hurdles but also give us advantages.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your personal life and professional journey? What is your personal motto in life?

I would probably have two key mottos… Different Not Less and Leading Without Limits. Me realising that my difference does come with hurdles but that doesn’t make me any less – and really believing in that – was game-changing. Knowing that you have great value and value to share is needed to have that self-belief and confidence. Don’t let others set your limits – lead and live like it’s your last day on earth.

Women are a growing force in the workplaces worldwide, standing shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. There are cracks in glass ceilings everywhere, with many women breaking through to carve out a space right at the top of the pyramid. What are your thoughts about women’s leadership today?

It’s incredible to see women rising to the top and creating change, too. We can’t take our feet off the pedals and we need to ensure that as we rise, we are creating the change we want to see. We need to help other women rise with us and together we can do more, be more and give more.

With your grit and determination, you are making a considerable impact, breaking through, and serving as role models for many budding entrepreneurs. What would you want to say to our young women leaders/audience reading this?

Be you. Value yourself above all else. Love all of yourself, even the flaws and imperfections. We need to change the way we talk to ourselves about ourselves or we’ll never really change how others feel and talk about us. Know that being different doesn’t mean being less and that we can be ourselves and grow a successful business that suits us, our life and our definition of success.

We are not limited by the beliefs of others and build our confidence and self-belief. That only really happens when we accept all of who we are and find a way to work in the business that suits us and show up for our business in a way that doesn’t have us hiding who we really are.

We all have great value to give and gold to share.